Head Covering for Women ~ A blog interaction

In February 2011, I (Jane Coley) received a question on my blog (janesjournalfromkenya.blogspot) about head coverings for women. The question was from a woman of Amish/Mennonite background and I thought the interaction would be interesting to read.

From Missionary Momma:
Have you considered covering your head?

My response:
No. And this is why. - The books of first and second Corinthians are Paul’s writings to the Christians at the church of Corinth, and his purpose was to settle the contentions that were in the church, and there were many.
To this particular contention (concerning a head covering on women when they pray) Paul’s response is given in verse 16 "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
Paul’s addressing of this contention (found in I Corinthians 11:3-15) is structured in such a way that he:
1.) defines the contention in their understanding; basically he was telling them - this is what you do and this is why I understand you do it,
2.) Paul clarifies the Word of God by stating a woman’s head/authority is her husband,
3.) And for added emphasis, Paul states a woman’s head is already covered with her hair,
4.) Then, to wrap things up, Paul ends this discussion with... "we have no such custom...".
Thank you for your question.

From Missionary Momma:
"The books of first and second Corinthians are Paul’s writings to the Christians at the church of Corinth." Do you also dismiss the Lord's Supper which is in the very same chapter?

If the covering is only hair, what does 1 Cor. 11:5 mean? How does a woman dishonor her head?

Are you suggesting that Paul goes into a discussion on a woman's covering and why she should wear one only to end by saying "we have no such custom"?

Paul says "we have no custom" of being contentious about the practice of covering. Why? It was, to the apostle an obvious conclusion from the created order (v 14) and to the angels looking on (v 10).

Is the hair alone a covering? In verse 5, the uncovered woman dishonors her head "as if she were shaven". To re-emphasize this covering / hair distinction, the apostle--assuming that a shaved woman is a dishonor--says "let her be covered"(v 6).

In 1 Peter 3, the apostle prohibits outer adornment such as the wearing of gold. Do you take that literally?

Like you, I appreciate and primarily use the KJV. Its four centuries of use bear eloquent testimony to its value as one of the best translations.

However, I am appalled that you would call all other versions "weak at best or wrong." Why stop with the KJV? Why not use the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek? Will you require Kenyans to use the KJV? Will you tell them that the Bible in their very own language is "weak at best or wrong."

While we highly value the KJV for English speakers, it is interesting to note that Jesus used the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) because it was a more contemporary translation understandable to the Hellenized Hebrews.

Also, I embrace your standard of "separation" by wearing dresses and not pants even if that standard is NOT clearly addressed in Scripture. To dismiss both the prohibition of jewelry and the head covering yet embrace skirts and dresses is to allow your church culture to supersede the Word of God.

I know written words can seem far more harsh than the spoken. I am not meaning to have harsh tone only to challenge you a bit. I really appreciate the overall direction of your new blog. I am already praying for you as you serve overseas.

My Response:
I do not dismiss the Lord’s Supper. I am attempting to draw attention to the fact that Paul clarifies the difference between an ordinance and a custom.

The Lord’s Supper, as an ordinance, was to be observed and Paul tells the Christians at Corinth to "keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (I Cor. 11:2). But because of their abuse of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper it became necessary for Paul to remind them of what he had, in the past, delivered to them concerning this ordinance.

Verse 16, however, speaks of a custom, not an ordinance, and the custom was the covering of a woman’s head when she prays, to which Paul said, "we have no such custom". Paul not only used the example of hair as a covering but also the example of headship / authority over a woman as two illustrations to the Corinthians ("...that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." - verse 3). Paul was very well educated and very much of a strong aggressive temperament and it was very much inline with Paul’s temperament to address a problem by first clarifying the problem, as was the example of how he addressed the Corinthians’ misuse of the Lord’s Supper. This pattern of how Paul dealt with matters was repeated in other examples as well.

I Peter 3:3-4 "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."
To this verse, you made this statement "the apostle prohibits outer adornment such as the wearing of gold". This is not prohibiting the wearing of gold, or it would also prohibit the putting on of apparel and the plaiting of hair as these are also mentioned in the same context. The instruction here is that it is not the outward adorning that we should be attentive to, it is the inward adorning of a meek and quiet spirit that we should be concerned with and strive to emulate as the holy women of old did.

I use the Authorized King James Version of the Bible because I cannot speak (let alone, read) the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic languages and the A-KJV of the Bible is the best English translation there is (on that we seem to agree) because the A-KJV source was the original languages. Kenya has 42 different and distinct tribes, each with their own language, when the Kenyans use an English Bible, we do highly recommend the A-KJV and point out the errors of the other English translations. For those who cannot speak or read English, we highly recommend the Union translation of the Bible, as it is the best translation for the Swahili speaking language groups. With the other language groups, we tell them to use the best they can find and we point out the discrepancies as we become aware of them. It is unfortunate that many of the different language Bibles are a translation from different English Bibles and not from the original Bible languages.

True, the wearing of dresses and not pants (for a woman) is NOT clearly addressed in Scripture, but in my culture the wearing of pants pertains to a man, Deuteronomy 25:5 "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God." One thing is very true about God, God never changes Him mind on things He calls an abomination, therefore, trying to cast off that instruction because it’s of the Old Testament won’t work, it’s still an abomination with God to cross-dress. For those civilized cultures where both men and women wear robes, I have observed that there is a particular robe for a man and a particular robe for a woman and in those particular cultures they would not even think of cross-dressing their robes. When we come to the New Testament, the admonition is for women to wear modest apparel (I Timothy 2:9), pants on a woman are form fitting which means her body is silhouetted, though covered. Understanding that a man is visually stimulated means he enjoys the shapely silhouette of a woman as much as her naked body, therefore, pants on a woman are not modest apparel especially when her posterior and thighs are accentuated and her crotch is define.

Thank you again for your questions

From Missionary Momma:
At this point, Missionary Momma posted a blogspot for me to visit but did not post a specific or direct question to me. I went to the blogspot and read all the information.

My Response:
I’ve read the information contained in this blog... from your perspective, you think it is necessary for a woman to wear a head covering... but I do not agree with your perspective. Head covering is a custom, not an ordinance... it is a consideration, not an abomination... it is a matter of opinion, not a commandment. At this point, let us respectfully agree to disagree and move on. Thank you.

That was the end of my interaction with Missionary Momma. I had started blogging in Feb. 2011 and this interaction was posted shortly after I began my blog. What a way to get initiated into the blogging scene! But, I learned a lot from her friendly challenge and I’m thankful for that.


Sally said...

Thank you for posting this. I, too, have had discussions with Mennonite women about this custom, and while I do appreciate many characteristics of some of the Mennonite people, this is one which I can not agree with.

On the subject of pants vs. skirts/dresses, at least three times in the scriptures "breeches" pertain specifically to men and NOT women. To me, that clearly defines them as a man's garment. Also, it is not the act of cross-dressing that is abominable to God, but the person who does so! "For all that do so are an abomination..." That is the point that convinced me many years ago to throw away my pants -- what woman who loves the Lord wants to be an abomination to him?
God bless you for your stand!

Jane M. Coley said...

Thank you, Sally.

~Lisa~ said...

Very interesting post, and like you said, what a way to get initiated in to the blog world! I admire your reply to her. I wouldn't even know where to begin if someone had approached me like that. Everything sits in my head and I have a terrible time telling you where it is in the Bible, where I heard it, and what it means so when I do feel I got something right I blog about it... no wonder my blog is so few and far between lol.

Anyway, sorry to rant on, but thank you for the things you pointed out. It really helps me a lot.

Jane M. Coley said...

Hi Lisa, Thank you for your kind comment, glad you found it helpful. God bless

Ben said...

The only problem with Mrs Coley explanation is that it is inconsistent with the text in this way; Paul would not have spent all that time explaining the reason for a sister to cover, just to say, "we have no such custom." The custom they did not have was that of NOT covering? You think not? Look at the quotes and art work from early church history, what did the sisters have on their head?

Furthermore, read the commentaries of most of men whom we, (Baptist's,) often reference, i.e., Barne's Notes, Gill, Matthew Henrry, etc., they are in sharp contrast to you.

Your interpretation is contemporary and American. You are reading the scriptures with Red, White, and Blue colored glasses. If it was only cultural and to settle a problem at Corinth, Paul would not have added this instruction early in his epistle:

"[2] Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:" 1 Cor. 1:2

True, he was addressing the Believers at Corinth, but he goes on to say, ". . .all that in EVERY PLACE [emphasis mine,] call upon the name of Jesus. . . "

Head covering runs contrary to our American culture, but scripture is "countercultural." It does not go well with our attraction to fancy dress, fancy jewelry, and fancy lives. Early believers were known for their simplicity, modesty, and shamefacedness. Read the early church father, I know it IS NOT scripture, but it is a window into the first century church.

We have strayed.

Thank you for considering,
Bro. Ben